AWAY MATCH SPONSORED BY
A spirited second half performance saw Notts County come from behind to earn a point at the Banks’s Stadium. A disappointing first half showing left the Magpies a goal down at the break but a dominant display after the break deservedly led to an equaliser.
Walsall, although limited for long periods, offered nearly all of the offensive play and would have been in front as early as the sixth minute, had Alan Judge not made a vital goal-line clearance to deny Will Grigg. However, the striker did get his goal in the 29th minute from the penalty spot, after Bartosz Bialkowski fouled Jamie Paterson inside the area.
Yoann Arquin’s introduction at half time made a big difference and he scored his first goal since the beginning of December to get the Magpies back onto level terms. Judge also had two golden opportunities, either side of the goal, but was unable to hit the target on both occasions.
Arquin nearly won the match late on, when he rose well at the back post to nod inches wide. Following a disappointing first half performance, Notts were more than happy to take the point.
Bialkowski had returned to the starting 11 at the expense of 18-year-old Fabian Spiess, as one of three alterations to the County line-up. The reliable Pole had been forced to miss the fixtures with Portsmouth, Hartlepool United, Stevenage and Crewe Alexandra with a serious head injury.
Another player make a comeback was skipper Neal Bishop, who slotted into a central midfield role as part of a 3-5-2 formation, following the completion of his three-match ban. As a result, Gavin Mahon dropped to the bench, along with Julian Kelly - a change that allowed for the extra striker, debutant Leicester City frontman Jacob Blyth.
During the first half, it was the hosts that provided the vast majority of the attacking threat. In the third minute, midfielder Jamie Paterson surged into space and watched an effort ricochet strongly off Gary Liddle to force Bialkowski into a reaching claim.
On 6, the home supporters were on their feet, after Paterson stretched the County defence with a cross-field pass, which allowed Grigg to progress into the area. Following a fortunate deflection, the striker rounded Bialkowski but his low finish was superbly hacked off the line by Judge, who had shown great energy to track back from midfield.
The Magpies offered little in the final third and the only attempt of note during the early exchanges came from Bishop, whose long-range hit skewed away from goal and out for a throw-in. At the same time, Walsall offered little going forward for long spells but that did not stop them from gaining the lead in the 27th minute, when they were awarded a spotkick.
A hopeful punt over the Notts backline saw Paterson escape the offside flag and, as he applied lifted finish, Bialkowski upended him. After a short delay, due to a flare being thrown onto the pitch from the away end, Grigg sent the County stopper the wrong way with a well-hit strike into the bottom-right corner.
The Saddlers were lifted by the goal and former Magpie Febian Brandy started to see more of the ball on the right flank. On 33, he tested Bialkowski with a low drive and, moments later, completed a tricky forward run with a stern hit that was diverted away from goal by Dean Leacock’s block.
Notts’ best attempt of the half came on the stroke of half time, when Judge’s determination led to Blyth breaking on the counter attack. He eventually fed the ball to his strike partner, John Cofie, who drove wide of the right-hand post from 20 yards.
Blyth was withdrawn at the interval and replaced by Arquin. The introduction of the Frenchman had been key to Notts’ revival in the second half against Crewe and more of the same was required at the Banks’s Stadium.
Jamal Campbell-Ryce provided County’s first shot on target within a minute of the restart. The wideman cut inside from the right flank to strike into the arms of home stopper Ian McLoughlin.
Shortly after, Judge delivered an out-swinging corner that drew McLoughlin off his line. The goalkeeper struggled to get close to the ball and Jeff Hughes was unfortunate not to see his header break through a barrier of red shirts.
On 54, Arquin capitalised on a slip by full-back James Chambers to surge forward unopposed but his finish from a tight angle was kept out by McLoughlin’s outstretched foot. Judge then looked certain to score with the rebound but found the wrong side of the post with his placed finish.
Notts kept up the pressure and Alan Sheehan caused problems with a free-kick from deep. Hughes won an aerial battle to nod the ball in the direction of Judge, whose left-footed volley flew inches over.
Another former County player, Craig Westcarr, provided Walsall’s first attempt of the second half, after midfielder Sam Mantom fed him into the box. The forward aimed for the far corner, only Liddle threw his body in the way of the shot and Notts escaped.
The Magpies deservedly pulled level in the 65th minute, when Arquin drove home, following Campbell-Ryce’s dangerous lofted centre from the right wing. Arquin arguably should have been awarded a penalty, as he was initially held by his marker, but all was forgiven when he pounced on the loose ball inside the six-yard box to find the bottom-left corner in front of the away fans.
Arquin then turned provider, as he added a flick-on to a long punt from the back. Judge raced clear and McLoughlin was required to make a reaction save inside his near post to keep out the Irishman’s powerful drive.
Walsall then had a strong call for a second penalty waved away. Sheehan had sent Brandy tumbling but, on this occasion, Notts were not punished.
As the final whistle loomed, there only looked likely to be one winner, as the Magpies repeatedly piled forward. Campbell-Ryce fired directly at McLoughlin, after making room for himself from the left wing, and Arquin cleared the bar with a header, made possible by Sheehan’s pacy left-flank delivery.
Arquin and Sheehan combined again, after Notts were awarded a free-kick in the right channel. Sheehan curved towards the back post, where Arquin’s downward header bounced narrowly wide.
This was the last effort of the match and Chris Kiwomya’s side had to settle for a share of the spoils. The Magpies ended the day 10 points adrift of the Play-Off places in 11th place.